“Do you have anything you’d like to add?” my friend Gemma says to me. The interview is at a close. My book is almost launched, three days before its release, and I’m sitting on a high stool, holding a microphone, staring out at almost everybody I’ve ever met.
I say some thank yous that feel like poor facsimiles of the deeds my family, friends and publishing professionals have done for me. I cut short the thank you to Dave because my throat closes up. And then the microphone is being taken away – did somebody take it away, or did I hand it over? How strange and distorted the spotlight turns your mind – and people are parting so I can walk, first, to the signing table, and now the formal part of my book’s launch is over.
As I walk past I see there is a stack of my books right next to the till, all looking satisfying identical. I wonder if I could tell them apart, my books in the wild, but I think I have to stop trying, stop trying to read every review, to keep track of it all. One of the books on the pile is dog-eared, but otherwise they are all just the same. Replicas.
I walk through the cookery section, holding my Sharpie. I never thought I would be ready for this moment. It was racing towards me and every day, I was thinking: I am not ready for this. Not ready for a launch at which I would be the centre of attention, not ready for people I speak to every day to be reading my fiction, not ready for the sales, the sales, the sales figures.
How can I get ready? The days have rushed past and I have pondered this while having iPhone dinners and showers during which I accept Oscars and imagine my Amazon rank to be 1,000,000 (very bad). Another day done. Another night done, I think, as soon as I wake. Two weeks to go. One week to go. Just days. Only a handful of days remain.
I have plans the weekend after my book is out that I have paid almost zero attention to. I know they exist. I know they will happen, but for now, for me, the curve of the earth is steep, a sheer drop, and they are on the other side of it – only a step away, but a big one.
As I walk across the bookshop, my feet echoing on Waterstone’s wooden floors, I see a couple of people at the back of the audience have started to move. They approach the till. A friend reaches to pick one of my books up, lingering over the cover, her index finger out, tracing my name – my name! – and then she hands it to the bookseller, and pays by contactless card – a tiny beep – and the bookseller places it in her hands. I have stopped, stock still, next to the photography section. I am still looking, watching this transaction in awe. She is £7.99 worse off, and she now owns my book. A tiny piece of me.
I hurry to the chair where I will be signing books, but I keep seeing that book sale in my mind. The first I’ve witnessed. And it might be that the launch is over, my Everything But The Truth cake cut, that I am surrounded by a safety net of family and friends, but I don’t think so. No. It is seeing that sale.
You see, the books have replicated exponentially, and I have tried, and failed, to keep track of them all, like a father whose children have had children have had children have had children, and suddenly there are thousands of them and I cannot tell who is who. They are not mine anymore; they are distant relatives, descendants of me. But they are not me. And they are not mine.
That sale. It has done it. That contactless beep. The book is, in its thousands, out in the world in 36 hours’ time, and here I am: finally ready.